|Brahm, the Schumanns and Klopstock
|Johannes Brahms was born the son of a double bass player on May 7, 1833 in Hamburg, Germany.
He had a pleasant childhood, and after receiving an early education in the classics, Brahms began
playing in public at fourteen years old, giving concerts at theaters, but also playing in dives and
bordellos in order to bring in extra money for the family. Brahms would later allude to this unusual
and youthful contact with "the women" as a partial factor in his lifelong bachelorhood.
While Brahms presented the serious music of Bach and Beethoven, he wrote original compositions
which he would blend into his programs, and these pieces were often variations on old German folk
songs which made him popular with German audiences. His fame spread. Brahms was somewhat old
fashioned and felt no kinship to the "music of the future" as did a Wagner or a Liszt, but he was
studious, prodigious and had a deep reverence for music. He was so meticulous that he worked on
one piece for eleven years before making it public, and he only wrote four symphonies that are
known of. Extremely self critical, Brahms strove for technical perfection, and this gave him a
reputation as irritable. Above: Brahms and his birthhouse after the bombing; The Schumanns
It is estimated the chamber music we have is only one quarter of what he actually wrote, as he
destroyed anything that he considered unworthy. He certainly had a soft side and displayed it to Clara
Schumann to whom Brahms often first sent his works. Brahms and the Schumanns were close
friends, and three years after they met, Robert Schumann fell ill and died. Brahms had consoled
Clara, fourteen years his senior, during the anguish of Robert's disease.
It is as impossible to sever Brahms from Robert and Clara Schumann, or they from eachother.
Robert Schumann was born in Zwickau on June 8, 1810 and showed no major interest in music until
he was a young adult when Friedrich Wieck became his teacher. Wieck was quite famous and his
musically gifted daughter Clara met Schumann and they fell in love. Despite her father's grave
objections, they married a day before her 21st birthday in 1840, had a big family and remained
deeply in love throughout their marriage.
On the day after their wedding, Robert gave a diary to Clara, suggesting that they each write in it and
exchange it weekly, which they did for several years. Today, it gives us a glimpse into their lives.
Schumann had damage to his fingers, so he put his attention to composing. He became a writer and
editor for a music journal launched in 1834. Throughout his life, Schumann suffered depression.
When Clara was 35, Robert Schumann's bouts with depression continued, leading him to commit
himself to an asylum after 14 years of marriage and eight children. He died there two years later on
July 29, 1856. Clara was left to support her family by giving concerts and teaching. She was one of
the most famous pianists of her time with a musical output of 66 pieces. She died in 1896. The
Schumanns travelled throughout the heart of Germany, and it is said that Robert Schumann was so
inspired by the Cologne Cathedral that he went home and composed his Rhenish Symphonies.
A lasting love for Clara ultimately developed for Brahms, although their relationship was complex
and not without difficulties. Friends expected Brahms and Clara Schumann to marry. Why they did
not is one of history's secrets. Brahms dedicated many of his works to Clara, and they remained
lifelong friends. Brahms was 64 years of age when Clara died in 1896. A grieving Brahms attended
her graveside funeral in cold, wet weather and became ill, dying on April 3, 1897 in Vienna.
|Hamburg was home to many other historic figures. The great German poet Friedrich Gottlieb
Klopstock, the eldest son of a religious and esteemed lawyer, was born in Quedlinburg in 1724.
Klopstock gained fame while he was still in school when he drafted the plan of 'Der Messias'. He
next studied theology in Jena, went on to Leipzig and journeyed to Zurich. Here, he received an
invitation to settle at Copenhagen from Frederick V of Denmark at state expense, with a chance for
him to complete his work.
The offer was accepted, and on his way to the Danish capital in 1754 he met his future wife, Meta
Möller, the "Cidli" of his odes and an enthusiastic fan. Sadly, she died in 1758, breaking his heart.
He subsequently published his late wife's writings, then turned his attention to northern mythology,
which he conceived should replace classical subjects in a new school of German poetry. In 1770,
he retired to Hamburg, but retained his pension together with the rank of councillor of legation.
He issued the last five cantos of the Messiah there in 1773, and he travelled south in 1775, making
the acquaintance of Goethe on the way. He spent a year at the court of the Margrave of Baden at
Karlsruhe and in 1776 returned to Hamburg where he spent the remainder of his life. In his older
age, he was fascinated by the American War of Independence and the Revolution in France. The
French Republic sent him a diploma of honorary citizenship, but, disgusted by the violence of the
Revolution, he returned it. At age 67 he remarried. He died in Hamburg on March 14,1803 and was
mourned by all Germany and buried with great ceremony by the side of his wife Meta in the church
graveyard of the village of Ottensen. His work has been translated into seventeen languages. Much
of Klopstock's poetry was set to music by Schubert and others.